How do you generate story ideas? For me, formal brainstorming sessions don’t often result in inspiration. Even if I’m alone, a creative challenge rarely gets solved by force. That’s not to say the process doesn’t require effort. Staring at a blank screen or page for hours is how I submit a concept request to my brain. But real progress only ever happens in the background. Distraction seems to be a more potent ingredient than focus.
At MIT, you’d expect the opposite to be true. They cultivate video ideas on petri dishes. There’s an idea algorithm that can only be deciphered by nobel laureates and janitors. Concept approvals are awarded after months of (ethical) experimentation.
On Episode 5 of the podcast, Assistant Director of MIT Admissions Chris Peterson reveals the first step in his creative process. “One of the things that we like to do in the office is to generate the most nuts idea we can think of and then try to achieve it. And we’re probably not going to get all the way there. But by trying, we might be able to do something really cool.” When Chris has a bold video idea that exceeds his production capacity, he has access to an unprecedented pool of talent and intelligence.
The way most universities recruit athletes, Chris recruits nerds. Loren Sherman is proud to be one of those nerds. He’s a third-year Media Studies and Computer Science major at MIT. Together, they made the greatest admissions decision video of all time, despite their lack of “formal” training.
Chris got his film degree in the woods of New Hampshire, where he and his brothers blew up toys with homemade explosives. He documented the destruction on a website he created and curated. Sadly, toydestruction.com no longer exists. We still managed to find this old picture of Chris.
Before the Pi Day Drone video, Chris had worked closely with production houses on ambitious admissions projects. Despite significant investments of time and money, there were no guarantees that the final product would yield engagement. So they started hiring talented students like Loren to bring down costs without sacrificing production value. He quickly realized another important benefit of working with students — content validation. If the videos amused the student team, there was a better chance that they would also connect with their intended audience of prospective MIT Engineers.
Chris first reached out to Loren after watching his tube hacking video. Loren’s first officially sanctioned MIT project was a Tim Beaver version of the JCVD split video. Their collaboration for Pi Day was born out of a failed attempt to deliver real admissions decisions via trained owls. As it turns out, owls can only be trusted with messages from Hogwarts.
Listen to our conversation to learn how they got from owl to drone delivery.